Written: November 28th, 2007, 8:08 (UTC) By: omer
Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.
News: I have submitted my novel to NaNoWriMo and thus am officially a "winner" for 2007:
The novel continues here.
It was, needless to say, infuriating. And, soon, he longed to be rid of his one-time friend and return to his intellectual solitude. But, he had no method for asking her to leave, and whenever she wasn't deeply engrossed in a problem or a book, she simply stared at the wall opposite her and frowned. Orr told himself that he didn't have the heart to tell her to leave, but the truth was that he simply didn't have the lexicon to do it in a non-monstrous way, and whatever useful words he did know to enact his desire had long since gone out of disuse, and would take more neural power to remember than he currently felt able to afford. He was unaccustomed to the sorts of challenges he had been facing over the last couple of days. He looked forward to returning to the simple world of symbolic thinking, but it remained an idle dream.
By two in the morning, when Mike returned from his studies and social events, Orr and Toff were working on entirely different classes (data structures and contemporary civilization, respectively); Orr was at his desk, and Toff was sitting on her backpack on the floor against a wall nearby.
They both turned to look at Mike as he walked in. And, they both said, "Hi, Mike" in unison. Toff added, "I didn't know you were roommates with Orr!"
Mike said, "Hi, Orr. Hi, Toff. Yeah, I wasn't aware that you knew each other."
Toff said, "Yeah, high school friends actually. We haven't hung out a ton lately, but we're starting too." She smiled at Orr, who smiled back reflexively.
Mike said, "That's wonderful! It looks like a fun evening too." He and Toff laughed.
Toff said, "It has been." She again smiled at Orr, who again reflexively mirrored her. "But, I guess it's late, huh. I should let you two get to sleep."
Mike said, "Oh, no, you shouldn't leave on my account. As Orr knows, I have no problem falling asleep with the light on." He moved to his desk, opened his laptop, and started started typing into it while still standing. "And, if you want to spend the night, that's perfectly cool too."
Toff's face collapsed, and she sputtered, "I... No, it's not..." She looked over at Orr who considered her inarticulateness a sign that the probability of him understanding the proceedings could only decrease. He opened and closed his mouth as a sign of eternal confusion.
Mike, unphased, continued, "Okay, if you insist. But I have a sleeping bag in my closet if you change your mind."
Toff ceased her sputtering and looked back from Orr to Mike and pulled an Orr, opening and then closing her mouth without letting any sound emit.
Mike, unphased, continued, "The noise doesn't bother me. Seriously. I keep it in the far-right corner of the closet if you want."
Only after finishing this claim did he look up from his computer and at Toff, who had opened her mouth again. He then looked at Orr, who was looking between him and Toff, perplexed.
Mike, apparently thinking that it was not the offer that had confused Toff (and Toff's response that had confused Orr), but the fact that he owned a sleeping bag, said, "I have it for Spring Break. I want to travel around the U.S." He smiled at the two of them, and they mirrored him reflexively. Then, he grabbed a bag of toiletries and left the room.
When he had left, Toff turned back to Orr and said, "I'd kinda like to stay, if that's okay by you. I'm not very excited about walking home at this hour, and you're really helping me feel better."
Toff said, "But, if you want, I'd be willing to walk home too, no problem. I've been imposing as it is."
Orr said, "No, that's perfectly fine. Stay the night if it'll help you feel better!" He was angry at both Toff and Mike for invading his privacy and time, and he desperately wanted to tell her to leave, but, again, he lacked the vocabulary, and agreeing with whatever Toff said was quickly becoming a habit of his. This is your problem, he thought. You don't have the guts to disappoint people to their face!
Toff jumped up, hugged Orr, and then walked over to the closet on the clean side of the room and extracted from it a green sleeping bag.
She said, "Mind if I make some room for myself?"
Orr said, "Not at all! Let me help!" This is your problem. He got up and started shoving things into the corner of the room with his feet. Toff joined him, and by the time Mike returned, they had created space on the floor to fit her and the sleeping bag. Toff returned to her backpack-chair, and Orr walked back to his desk.
Mike said, "Thank you for the company, Toff! Good night, kids!" And, he climbed onto his bed (as Toff and Orr echoed his "Good night"), snatched a book from under his pillow, and started reading it.
The three continued reading together for ten minutes, after which Mike turned to his side, and slept. Toff continued studying for another half hour after that before dropping into the sleeping bag. After she went to sleep, Orr continued for another hour on various classes, then, with a glance in her direction, decided that he would try her method of solving logic problems after all, and scrounged through his papers for another sample midterm he had printed out, and set to work, largely unsuccessfully, until he fell asleep in his chair just as natural light began peeking into his room.
The next morning, Toff convinced Orr to accompany her for breakfast, and she told him all about her first two months as an undergraduate. And, because her experiences were so intertwined with Tom's, Orr also learned about the successes of his other friend. When Toff spoke of him, her voice would sink, and she would glance all around the dining hall as she spoke. But, Tom did not come to breakfast.
After an hour, the two said "good bye," exchanged phone numbers (Toff had acquired a cell phone and punched Orr's number into it with surprising digital dexterity), and vowed to spend more time together in the future, perhaps after midterms. But, as Orr left, he vowed to himself that he would learn how to say "no" to other people and that he would never waste so much time again in his life.
Orr's midterms were difficult, more difficult than the samples he had studied, and he often found that he did not have time or was otherwise unable to answer entire questions. And, as he began studying for the second half of the semester, waiting for his grades to arrive, the stress distracted him almost as much as Toff had distracted him on her Catastrophic Friday. And, though he managed most of his time without thinking about Toff at all, she had disrupted him as an automatic being, taken him from a Turing machine with only textbooks as its input tape to someone capable of looking away from its tape, of thinking about problems intuitively, and of having non-quantitative problems. In other words, she had shown him an example of how to use his internal machinery to his advantage instead of trying to act like a computer all the time. And, he found it difficult to return to his old, automaton's lifestyle.
Instead, every time he was on a roll, solving one problem after another, applying the one set of techniques and tools after another, his brain would suddenly, without warning, change gears, and he would be thinking about his test grades, or about another problem he had worked on an hour ago, or about Toff, or about his sister, and so forth. So, it took him all the longer to solve any given problem set; so, he slept even less; so, his brain became all the more apt to explore arbitrary thoughts. Fortunately, after midterms, his classes each gave him a short break of less intense work, reminiscent of his first weeks of classes, or else he may have abandoned sleep entirely.
Orr's life progressed in this fashion for the following week, and by Saturday morning, his body (disgruntled as it had been by the miscare it had received over the past seven weeks, especially the final one) was preparing to revolt.
He awoke at 8:00am with a chill across his whole body, and when he got up to turn off his alarm and urinate, his body shook, and his arm could barely hold his weight. He collapsed into bed again, the alarm still going off. Eventually, Mike got up, turned it off, and returned to bed, mumbling.
Orr drifted back to sleep.
He awoke again not because of an overwhelming need to urinate (though he felt it), but because of a sound. A sharp sound. A repeated sharp sound... His brain worked furiously. A door knock! He looked over at the door, then at Mike's bed. The former was closed, the latter empty. He tried to yell "Just a second," but his voice had run away with his health, and he only managed a croak that sounded a little like the word "juicer."
The knock repeated.
Orr tried again to get up and managed with decent success to lift himself up. The ladder down from his bed (which was lofted above his desk) proved challenging, but he threw his whole weight against the bed as he stepped down so he had no chance of falling, and he eventually managed to reach the bottom and stagger to the door. He pushed his body against it, twisted the doorknob, and collapsed backwards into the wall. He heard a female voice say "Oh!"
He let the door loose and slid down the wall to sit on a loose homework assignment ("Good work... write more neatly!").
The door had almost closed all the way before the person caught it and pushed it open again, almost into Orr, but he said, "Oh!" and the door stopped. A head emerged from behind it: Toff's, but oddly discolored. Half of her hair had gone pink.
Her initial smile turned to a gasp, and her eyes went wide. She said, "Orr!" and knocked her arm into the door as she tried to circumvent it to reach him.
Orr passed out again.
He awoke to the smell of tomato soup, which, had it been any other day, would have surprised him. As it was, the part of his brain normally inclined to surprise was having trouble waking up. So, he accepted the fact with a shiver and a toss.
Toff's voice said, "Sorry, I hope I didn't wake you up!"
He opened his eyes, to Toff, holding a brown dining-hall tray, on which rested a bowl of tomato soup, a cup of something light brown-orange, a plate of saltine crackers, and a bigger plate brimming with salad.
Orr realized that he was in bed again.
Toff said, "I'll need to microwave the soup and tea, and don't worry," she grinned, "the salad is for me."
Orr smiled and mumbled, "Thanks." There was a growing heat in his chest, but it did not compare to the heat and dizziness that thwacked his head as he tried to sit up, so he collapsed back into bed.
Toff said, "Stay put. Let me microwave it first."
She put the bowl and the cup into the microwave portion of Orr's microfridge, and heated them. The microwave whirred in silence. When it finished, Toff took the bowl and cup out.
"Here," she said, "Let me help you up."
She put the bowl and cup on top of the microfridge and climbed onto Orr's bed. From there, she helped Orr hold himself up as he slowly sat. He leaned his back against the wall and sprawled his legs in front of him. Toff climbed back down and climbed up again first with the tray, which she placed on one side of Orr, then with the soup, which she placed on the tray, then with the cup, which also went onto the tray, and finally with her salad, which she hoisted onto her lap as she sat down.
She said, "I hope you don't mind some company."
He said, "Not at all," and to his surprise, was not greeted with any thought to the contrary.